Tuesday, January 31, 2006

An Obsession with George

This Spiked article is worth reading (via).

This is a particularly insightful analysis.
As each of these moral arguments has crumbled in the face of reality, the war's supporters have had to reach a little lower into the barrel to find a new one. Each time, the result has been further to expose the lack of a coherent case for the war. Now, after all the dodgy dossiers and dubious claims, they have touched the bottom. 'Look at Galloway making an idiot of himself!', they say. 'How could he be right about Iraq?'
Sound familiar? Here's the clincher:
[T]he fact that the self-styled leader of the anti-war movement is self-evidently a pillock is not in itself a justification for the invasion of a sovereign state.
I wonder if anyone at Harry's Place has read that? It could well have been written especially for those guys and their apparent obsession with the Gorgeous one. Lot's of people who opposed the invasion agree that Galloway is a self-obsessed arse. So what? Play the ball, not the arse.

But they're struggling with that. Their last post actually on the subject of Iraq was this from January 20th.
Secularists will hold the balance of power in the Iraqi parliament if the initial election results are correct: Read the whole story here.
Er? I've read that article. After some consideration, I'm guessing that the claim in the post relates to this paragraph:
Despite Sunni accusations of widespread electoral fraud, informal talks have already begun between the main Sunni block and the Kurds over the formation of a consensus government. Many observers believe the Sunnis could be offered the important defence portfolio to secure their collaboration.
The main Sunni block is the Iraqi Accordance Front ( 44 seats). They are Sunni Islamists. They are not a secular party. Unless some sort of miracle occurs, the secular parties are going to be on the outside looking in. Despite my objections to the war, I genuinely wish that Marcus was right. But I'm afraid he's not. If I was being unkind, I'd say he's talking out of his galloway.

What we really need now is an honest debate about what we're going to do next in Iraq. What are we going to do about the fact that Shiite Islamic fundies are the dominant force in the new Iraq? How will we react if, as seems likely, the new Iraqi government is generally supportive of Iran's nuclear ambitions? These are very serious questions and we desperately need a competant prime minister to deal with them. What we don't need is more of the fairytale optimism which characterised so many "pro-war" views in the first place.

I'm not trying to start a flame war with HP and have no particular disagreement with them. They are the most prominent "pro-war" blog I know in the UK, so that's why they tend to end up here on occassion. And there are a few of them so they've got moral support if they notice that some random blogger has been slagging them off.

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So Stehen Byers didn't lie to parliament. He told an untruth.

*Looks up definition of untruth*
untruth • noun (pl. untruths)
1 a lie.
2 the quality of being false.

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Damage Control

Yesterday, Allan Douglas from Aberdeen was killed in Iraq. He was the 99th British soldier to die in Iraq since the start of the military action to disarm Saddam Hussein. He was 22 years old.

Today, the 100th British soldier has been killed (he has not yet been named). It is an arbitrary number, every unnecessary death is one too many, but it will undoubtedly generate a great deal of media coverage. It is clear that Blair and his cabal have prepared a media strategy to deal with this temporary extra coverage of the situation in Iraq.

Blair told Reuters:
Our response has got to be not to walk away from the situation but to redouble our efforts to make sure the people of Afghanistan and Iraq achieve the democracy they want. In achieving that, we enhance our own security here. We should give our thanks to the British troops and the extraordinary courage they have displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places in the world. It is a tragedy when we lose any soldier but we have to understand why it's important to see it through.
Clever words, particulary the totally unjustified suggestion that Afghanistan and Iraq were part of the same issue. Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan. It can certainly be argued that the invasion of Afghansitan was part of the "war" on terror.

But why are our troops actually in Iraq? They went there to disarm Saddam because his WMD were a threat to our national security. In order for the Iraq debacle to "enhance our security here" it is first necessary to demonstrate that Iraq was a threat to the United Kingdom before the invasion. It was not. This is no longer in dispute as far as I'm aware. The invasion of Iraq was not part of the "war" on terror in any meaningful sense. It was a war of choice.

Blair's attempt to conflate Afghanistan and Iraq stinks of the mendacity which has characterised the war of choice against Iraq from the very start. It is part of the poision gas of deceit, a smokescreen to hide his lies and misjudgements.

Defence Secretary John Reid has also been engaging in damage control. He said:
The morale among our troops is fantastic. I only wish some of the commentators at home had the same moral courage and morale.
Fuck you, you fucking fuck. Sorry but that is the most cowardly pile of shite. Anyone who points out the fact that our troops were sent there based on an exaggerated threat, which was itself based on exaggerated intelligence, is a coward? Fuck you Reid. You're the one hiding the shitty decisions of your government behind the dead bodies of British soldiers. Fuck you.

Sorry but that really makes me angry. The Gulf region today is far more unstable than it was at the start of 2003. It is almost certain that the new Islamic Shiite government of Iraq will oppose any attempts to confront Iran over the nuclear issue. Iran, a country which genuinely could build a nuclear weapon reasonably quickly if it wishes, undoubtedly feels emboldened and free to pursue its goals due to the quagmire we're stuck in in Iraq. It is unlikely that the new Iraqi government will deal with Israel and there's every chance that they will refuse to recognise its right to exist. And we are supporting and enabling this new government in order to "enhance our own security here"? Pointing out that this situation is a total farce isn't something I do because of a lack of "moral courage". Hiding bad decisions behind the dead bodies of people you've sent to fight and die in Iraq, on the other hand, is about as cowardly an act as I can think of.

Today, the situation in Iraq is dire. Today, after Blair and Bush decided to attack a country which had nothing to do with the "war" on terror, it is part of that "war". It is very difficult to recommend a course of action which will improve the situation. But, I say again, the idea that Tony Blair is the best person to make these decisions is ridiculous in the extreme.

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Who controls the past...

Here's a link to a sensible article in the Daily Mail. Really.
[T]he moment may be fast approaching when the Premier is forced to explain the curious sequence of events that ended with Britain committing a huge part of its Armed Forces to a war whose justification weakens by the day, and which does not seem to have been in the interests of this country.
Indeed. But what's new?
A book by human rights lawyer Philippe Sands is said to claim that Mr Blair had committed this country to war in private discussions with President George W. Bush well before the final attempt was made to obtain a UN Security Council Resolution specifically authorising it - and well before Parliament was allowed to vote on the matter.
This happened on January 31st 2003 apparently. Here's the BBC report of the press conference after that meeting.
Some of the greyness outside seemed to carry over in the sombre and even tense mood of the joint press conference, which was first delayed, and then abruptly ended by President Bush after only 15 minutes.
I wonder what was causing the tension? Could it be that Blair, after failing to persuade the President of the absolute necessity of a second resolution, had just fully committed himself and the country to an illegal war of choice with regime change as it's objective? As I recall, it was around that time that Blair suddenly started to emphasise his desperation to help the long suffering people of Iraq.

When Chirac refused to agree to a second UN resolution under any circumstances, any chance of agreement in the Security Council was dashed of course. Blair was off the hook and the French were nothing but ungrateful cheese eating surrender monkeys. Except Chirac didn't say that at all. He said "There is no need for a second resolution today, which France would have no choice but to oppose". He did not rule out a second resolution in any circumstances as Blair claimed at the time. Just one more lie to add to the mix then.

How have Downing Street reacted to the allegation made by Sands? Bet you can't guess. Well, maybe you can.
Downing Street yesterday dismissed the new claims as Prof Sands "simply trying to get more publicity" for his book.
Because nothing written in a book is ever true, you see.* It's simply impossible.

* This is something it'd be good to mention to Blair when he's desperately trying to flog his fictional revisionist attempt to rescue his all but destroyed reputation memoirs to pay for that massive mortgage. "You don't seriously expect us to believe that, do you Tony? You're just trying to get more publicity for your book..."

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Monday, January 30, 2006


Iran is the new black apparently. Here are some facts about Iran which might come in handy this year. I've written this mostly for my own benefit to be honest.

So, Iran is predominantly populated by Shiite Persians (not Arabs). Their Shia fundamentalist Islam is not the same as the Sunni Wahhabism of the Taliban or bin Laden. In fact, Wahhabi's believe that the Shia are not "proper" Muslims at all (the Taliban viciously oppressed Shiites in Afghanistan). The idea that bin Laden would form an alliance with Iranian fundamentalists is a bit like believing that Ian Paisley would form one with the Pope. Not hugely likely, in other words. The Iranian government does have strong connections to the Shiites in the new Iraqi government though (via). The Iranian government are also strongly linked to Hezbollah, a Shia group. The spiritual leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Fadlallah, has said that the September 11th attacks on the US were un-Islamic and "barbaric". Hezbollah does, however, support suicide bombings directed against Israel.

That Coup
In 1953, the Shah was reinstalled after the sort of successful conclusion of Operation Ajax. The operation involved the CIA, with British support, orchestrating a coup against the nationalist Prime Minister of Iran (who had nationalised the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company). This CIA article analyses the after effects of that operation.
TPAJAX got the CIA into the regime-change business for good—similar efforts would soon follow in Guatemala, Indonesia, and Cuba—but [] the Agency has had little success at that enterprise, while bringing itself and the United States more political ill will, and breeding more untoward results, than any other of its activities. Most of the CIA's acknowledged efforts of this sort have shown that Washington has been more interested in strongman rule in the Middle East and elsewhere than in encouraging democracy. The result is a credibility problem that accompanied American troops into Iraq and continues to plague them...
The question is, has anyone told President Bush?
They hate what we see right here in this chamber -- a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms...
Perhaps, in the case of Iran, they hate the fact that the US government took away that very freedom and reappointed and supported a Western friendly government while disregarding the sovereignty of Iran. Bush can't be blamed for that, it happened in 1953. But it did happen. This led to the first use of the term blowback.

That Revolution
The regime of the Shah was highly corrupt and used brutal methods to maintain power. Nevertheless, the government continued to be supported by the West, particularly by the US, as it was thought to provide an effective barrier to Soviet entry into the strategically important Middle East region. Growing discontentment with the Shah created the conditions which led to the revolution and brought the Shiite Islamists to power. The United States government had assured the Shah that they would "back him to the hilt", but in the end they decided not to. The revolution, after the twists and turns common to many revolutions, brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979.

That Mad President
Today, President Ahmadinejad is in charge. Sort of. The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is Comander in Chief of Iran's armed forces, including the revolutionary guard, and has the exclusive power to declare war. Last year, Khamenei issued a Fatwa against production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons (though I doubt that's very reassuring to most people). He is a staunch religious conservative and strongly opposed to reform. The Guardian Council further complicates the issue as does the Assembly of Experts. How this all fits together is demonstrated by this handy BBC graphic. Sort of.

Anyway, the point is that Ahmadinejad does not have the same powers as President Bush for example. Ahmadinejad cannot simply impose his will on foreign policy issues.

That Nuclear Issue
This is the big issue and, of course, the reason why Iran is the new black. The latest news is that there has been no progress in talks between the EU and the Iranians. There'll be much more on this in the coming months, no doubt.

And Finally
From that BBC report:
Many Western powers and also Israel distrust Iran, partly because it had kept its nuclear research secret for 18 years before it was revealed in 2002.
I wonder what Mordechai Vanunu would say to that?

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Hall of Mirrors

Thanks to Talk Politics, I can now say with confidence that my opposition to the idea of intelligent design can be summed up by describing it as a reductio ad absurdum. In the article linked in that post, ID flag waver Stephen Meyer says:
Whenever we encounter complex systems - whether integrated circuits or internal combustion engines - and we know how they arose, invariably a designing intelligence played a role.*
So, is the intelligent designer a "complex system"? Complex entities cannot form spontaneously according to the "theory". If we accept that a designer must be a complex entity, and it seems impossible to avoid in this "theory", who designed him/her/it? And who designed the designer? And who designed the designer of the designer? And so on ad infinitum.

Intelligent design doesn't answer the questions which it claims need to be addressed. It just moves them into the realm of the unknowable. Science? No, I think not.

And anyway, it is clear that intelligence does not always play a role in the creation of complex systems. Look, I have scientific proof and everything. Complex system but a definite lack of intelligent design. Res ipsa loquitur.

* Btw, I could be wrong but by adding the stipulation "and we know how they arose", isn't Meyer also being highly disingenuous? If we know how they arose, chances are we made them (as in the examples he gives) so they will by definition be designed. If we take out that clause we get "Whenever we encounter complex systems, invariably a designing intelligence played a role". Hmm, most dubious. What about a tree? It's pretty complex. But it wasn't designed by an intelligence. Unless you believe in ID. And an infinite series of designers. And now, I'm getting dizzy.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

The End of Gordon Brown

It would appear that Gordon Brown has finally shown himself to be massively underqualified for the job of prime minister. I'm not talking about the way the silent one played politics with the decision to go to Iraq. That was just politics. Morally vacant, self-serving, dirty politics, but politics none the less.

No, I'm taking about a judgement so bad that it must call into question his fitness to lead a sing-song, never mind a country. Nick Robinson has already suggested that Brown may have made this spectacularly bad decision. Today, though, David Blunkett has pretty much put it on record.
My sense is that there is a new understanding -- yes -- and it's good because anybody with any ounce of understanding of politics knows that when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown work together, we're a winner -- and when they're divided, our opponents can divide us and it's as simple as that. So, good on them, and whether it's a year or two years it actually will be a sensible process blah blah blah...
Yes, it appear that Gordon Brown has decided to come to an understanding with the most untrustworthy man in Britain. A man who Brown said he would never trust again.

And now he has done just that. If that isn't a clear demonstration that Brown is unfit for the job of prime minister, then I don't know what is.

I'm not joking.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Media Integrity

Right, I think a proper explanation of my view of the News Corp - Liberal Democrat thing is in order.

It should be fairly obvious that newspapers report scandals in a selective way. To illustrate this at a basic level, consider that there is one group of influential, high profile people who are almost never on the receiving end of the exclusive scandal story. They are journalists. There are undoubtedly any number of journalists who've written hypocritical "I can't believe he/she takes drugs" or "he/she is gay but kept it in the closet" stories. The chances of this sort of hypocrisy being exposed elsewhere in the media are slim to non-existent (unless the journalist does something really outrageously ill-advised). The reason why this is the case is simple self-interest. It's not some great conspiracy theory; it's just an implicit understanding that if you do it to them, there's a very good chance that they're going to try to do it to you too. So, although many journalists will certainly know of potentially embarrassing scandals concerning other journalists, they will not be writing an exclusive expose based on that knowledge anytime soon. It may be good for circulation figures but it isn't a clever long term strategy. Not unless you want fellow journalists raking through your bins anyway.

There's also another kind of selectivity in these stories. (I seem to remember watching a documentary about Max Clifford in which they discussed this sort of thing.) The "Kate Moss takes cocaine" story is a good example. I don't take a great interest in this celebrity nonsense but this one was pretty much unavoidable. Without wishing to disparage Ms Moss, the question is, did a single hack journalist think she wasn't taking cocaine? Everyone knows that very many celebrities take drugs. If the hacks wanted to, they could do a story like this about a different celebrity every week. They mostly don't do this because celebrities are big business and they need to keep most of them "onside" most of the time. It's basic financial common sense. Moss, at some point, for some reason, lost her "onside" protection and all of a sudden it's open day on Kate. The point is, it almost certainly wasn't the fact the journalists suddenly discovered that she'd been taking cocaine which led to these stories. The idea that this was a shock to anyone in Fleet Street is implausible to put it mildly. It might have been artibrary, or Moss might have got up the nose (sorry) of a particular editor, but someone decided that it was time for a scandal about Moss. And once one newpaper reports the story, the rest are pretty much obliged to follow suit. The result in this case was a big national story about a supermodel taking drugs. Approximately no-one in the country actually thought that this was news. It did do severe damage (at least in the short term) to Kate's career though.

And there's a third kind of selectivity in these stories. Often, when a reporter finds out something scandalous, they will take it to the person concerned first. Negotiation may then lead to an agreement that the story will not go to press. The person concerned might agree to providing some exclusive interviews or some other service of benefit to the journalist and their employers. Blackmail might be too strong a word. Or it might not. Sometimes an agreement is reached whereby the story will be broken but in a sympathetic manner. Sometimes the journalist abides by that agreement but on other occassions it's a stitch up (a friend of a friend had the Scum do this to them recently actually - "Give us your side of the story and we'll go easy on you" lied the reporter). When a reporter gets their hands on a juicy bit of gossip, there are many options available. The idea that the scandal always get reported to the public is an eroneous one.

On some occassions though, when the target of the scandal is on the "offside" list, there's only one way the story is going to come out; as damagingly and embarrassingly as possible. Editors will sit on the story and time it's release in order to cause the maximum impact on the subject. They will go out of their way to dig up dirt on the "offside" in a way that they never would for the "onsiders". Careers can be destroyed in this way. This, despite the fact that most journalists are quite aware that many on the "onside" list are just as guilty of similar indiscretions.

That is how tabloid journalism operates. It is my contention that the Liberal Democrats are now on the Scum's "offside" list in a way that the Tory and Labour parties are not. The ability of Murdoch's minions to influence the big two is hindered by the existence of a strong third party and a hung parliament would be a nightmare scenario for them. Their traditional claim that the Scum backed the general election winners (can anyone remember the last time they didn't do this?) would be particularly hard if there was no clear winner. It's about influence and patronage. They haven't decided who to back at the next election but they know it won't be the Lib Dems.

This doesn't mean that the Scum will never report a scandal concerning a member of the two big parties. It's does mean there is likely to be a difference in attitude in the way they treat such stories. At some point before the next election, Murdoch and co will decide which horse to back and either Labour or the Tories will join the Lib Dems on the "offside" list. That party can then expect to be on the receiving end of the sort of thing the Liberal Democrats are already dealing with. It is, in my view, highly likely that the scandals reported by the Scum in the run up to the next election will indicate which side they're backing (not backing if you want to be pedantic about it) long before it is officially announced.

As for the two recent stories, I'm of two minds. In the case of Oaten, I genuinly can't see any reason why releasing this information was in the public interest. I couldn't care less. In the case of Hughes, his involvement in the campaign against Hatchell made him fair game. Probably not a resigning matter but he certainly deserves a bit of stick for his hypocrisy. Nevertheless, the motives of the Scum in revealing this information when they did are dubious at best. That's not to say that Oaten and Hughes didn't both made pretty bad decisions. They both made decisions which left them exposed to just this sort of thing.* But when you think of the bad decisions made by the current government (government decisions which affect us all mind, not personal indiscretions) and the Scum's apparent indifference to them, it puts these bad decisions into some sort of sensible perspective.

* The classic circular argument is deployed by the hacks here in the case of Oaten. The Scum says we had to reveal this about Oaten because it shows a lack of judgement. He must have realised that we'd reveal it if we found out and the fact that he did it anyway shows he's guilty of making bad judgements. So, you see we had to to show what a poor decision maker he is. By revealing it.

Do you have to be trained to think that way or is it a naturally occurring phenomenon, I wonder?

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Ends and Means

A new video apparently showing Norman Kember, and the three other hostages captured with him, has been shown on al-Jazeera. It is dated 21st January. This is obviously good news. There is still hope that he will be returned to his family alive and well.

On the subject of kidnapping, and without wishing to imply a direct moral equivalence, here's a report from AlertNet which is worth reading (via). That's just "kidnapping light" of course. No need to worry about the morality of capturing someone's wife to use as "leverage" against them. This is war after all. The ends justify the means. Right?

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Friday, January 27, 2006

On Murdoch's minions and their attitude towards the Liberal Democrats, it seems I'm not the only tin foil hatter in town (via).
The question also arises of News International's attitude to the Liberal Democrat party. The Sun has constantly mocked it in the past as a party of useless anti-war also-rans, in spite of its considerable popularity, and now I believe it wants to crush it. Its scorn is rooted in the fear that the party's rising fortunes have imperilled the political duopoly from which Rupert Murdoch, ever teasing with promises of patronage, has prospered.
So, has the Australian US based media baron decided to crush a legitimate British political party because it's existence a bit awkward? Let's watch this space and see how things play out in the coming months.

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Moving On

Gerald Baker, writing in the Times, manages to amaze and astonish in equal measure (via Harry's Place who appear to endorse the following and where I left a comment along similar lines).

He's writing about the grave danger posed by a nuclear armed Iran. Feel free to read it in context but I've extracted the salient point here.
It is argued that the decision to invade the wrong country has made our situation intolerably worse. Iran was always the bigger threat. While we were chasing phantom nuclear weapons in Mesopotamia, next door Iran was busy building real ones. Now we are enfeebled, militarily and politically, our diplomatic tools blunted beyond repair by the errors in Iraq.

[I]t is important for all of us to understand that this debate is now for the birds. All that matters now is what we do.
Baker does acknowledge that the point made above concerning Iraq is valid. But it's in the past and is, in his view, a debate for the birds.

Here's a facetious, not directly comparible, but illustrative example of that principle in action elsewhere:
Yes, this boy racer did carelessly plough his Impreza SRI into a crowd of pedestrians. All that matters now is what he does with his brand new new Impreza WRX.
It beggars belief, really it does. Take away his license, FFS.

To summarise Baker's position:
Yes, Blair has made a monumenal error in attacking Iraq. Yes, Blair has enfeebled our ability to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue. Yes, this is potentially a far greater threat than anything Saddam was likely to pose at any point in the foreseeable future. And yes, Blair should still be the one who decides what we do next in the face of this potentially very serious threat.

Sorry, the world doesn't work that way. Blair has shown himself to be woefully inadequate in his ability to be the guardian of the national security of this country. The idea that he'll be deciding what we do about Iran's nuclear programme genuinely sends shivers down my spine. It is simply not acceptable.

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Allies in Peace

It seems that someone in the US administration has finally realised that they've made an enormous strategic mistake by invading Iraq and empowering Iran friendly religious Shiites in the way they have.
The increased tension between Iran and the U.S. on the nuclear issue is affecting relations between Washington and the Shi'ites here. They are trying to find someone else, some other allies who will not turn against them (in Iraq) if things heat up with Iran.
- Anonymous European diplomat in Baghdad
Unlike Saddam in 2003, Iran today really does have the potential to build a nuclear weapon in the not too distant future. Unfortunately, the US is currently committed to supporting what will undoubtedly be a generally Iran friendly, Shiite fundamentalist dominated government in Iraq. If, as US pressure on Iran increases, the much feted democratically elected government of Iraq starts criticising the US government on their attitude towards the Iranian nuclear issue it's going to put the US administration in the ridiculous position of being the enablers and allies of Iraqi supporters of the Iranian nuclear programme. That's clearly something they wish to avoid.

So the US government is looking for other allies in Iraq. It seems that they're looking for new allies among the Sunnis (or Saddamists and rejectionists as Bush likes to call them) to counter this potential problem. The farcical nature of all of this probably doesn't need to be pointed out.

But I will anyway. We've invaded Iraq to disarm it of weapons of mass destruction which it didn't have. In doing that, we've had to ally ourselves with the new government of Iraq. That new government is likely to take exception to US attempts to stop Iran from building WMD. As a result, the US is now looking for new allies in Iraq among the people they removed from power in the first place.

Don't let anyone tell you that the invasion has made the world a more dangerous and unstable place though. That would just be irrational anti-americanism of the worst kind.

Tony Blair got the UK involved in this mess and he got us involved in it by deliberately misleading the public as to the size of the threat posed by Saddam. History will not be kind to him. Every day that goes by with Blair still in office will be a day that history records as one in which the Labour party and the British people continued to accept the unacceptable.

Personally, I'm not inclined to wait for history. I want to be unkind to Blair now. The lying, manipulative moron must be hounded out of office at the earliest opportunity.

(This is meaningless to almost everyone but I'll just add that this post isn't directly related to an email I may have sent recently.)

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Compare and Contrast

David Cameron says he's a liberal.

David Cameron says his 'instinct' is to bring back national community service.

Nanny state, nanny state, na na na na na na!

Bah. Normal service will resume shortly.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

What's the point of the Lib Dems?

I'm obviously not the first person to ask that question. Given their current difficulties, it's fairly topical. Personally, I'm not naive enough to think that they will ever form a government under the FPTP voting system. In fact, there's every chance that their 62 seats in the current parliament will be the highpoint from which they can only fall off. At the same time, it's worth pointing out that I thought much the same when Charlie won 52 seats in 2001, and I was certain of it when Paddy Ashdown retired when the party had 46 seats. Will the next parliament have more Lib Dem MPs than this one? It looks extremely unlikely at this stage but stranger things have undoubtedly happened.

They're obviously not going to be the largest party though and will, therefore, not supply the next Prime Minister (unless something truly bizarre happens). So, what is the point of the Liberal Democrats? This is a rough and ready guide to what I think it should be.

At the most basic level, they represent voters. Nearly 6 million of them in this parliament. Every time Labour and Tory MPs jeer a Liberal Democrat MP in the Commons as if they were a minor irritant of little or no relevance, they jeer all those people who voted for them. Due to the ridiculous FPTP system, this isn't a problem for Labour or the Tories but it is a problem for democracy. The system means that the views of almost a quarter of UK voters are consistently marginalised and under-represented.

In such a circumstance, the Liberal Democrats are faced with a very difficult task. They are the only party which genuinely promotes liberal values and the preservation of civil liberties but they are disproportionaly outnumbered by MPs from the big two parties. New Labour are certainly strangers to liberalism and the Tories are always prone to a bit of good old fashioned Daily Mail style nannying. So, the basic point of the Liberal Democrats is to represent the nearly 6 million people in this country who believe that the government should keep it's nose out of our business unless they can provide a very good reason as to why they should. That is, I think, what they should focus on.

Now they've been struggling with that recently. They need to find a consistent direction for the party and the friction between the beardie weardies and the Tory boys has been causing a bit of a problem. To my mind, the only solution is to go relatively neutral on economic policy.* Perhaps a policy of reducing the tax burden on the poorest section of society by promising to cut back on New Labour spending on authoritarian silliness would be a good starting point.

The other point of the Liberal Democrats, in my view, should be to promote the death of FPTP. It's a stupid system. A proportional system is what's needed. (FPTP = stability proponents should take this quiz.) Nationally, each Liberal Democrat MP represents 96,481 voters. Each Labour MP represents 26,859 voters. This is fair how exactly? The Liberal Democrats should make that point at every opportunity. Sure, it's in their own self-interest but it's also in the interest of actual democracy. They could use "Freedom and Democracy" as their slogan.

If a proportional system were to be introduced, of course, the Liberal Democrats would have a lot more points and 22% of the voting public's views would no longer be grossly under-represented in parliament. For that, what we really need is a hung parliament. Current long term predictions suggest it's a good possibility in the next parliament.

That'd obviously be a nightmare scenario for the traitors at the Scum. They need a clear winner to back. Making friends and influencing people is much harder when it's not immediately obvious who it is you need to befriend and influence. A third party just confuses the issue still further. (On the offchance that any Lib Dem MPs are reading this, you may want to check your closets now. You can, I think, be fairly sure that Murdoch's minions will be doing so shortly. Who outed Hughes again?**)

Anyway, that is, I think, the point of the Liberal Democrats. They are advocates for freedom and democracy. Now, sort yourselves out and get on with it please.

* Not my own choice, I'd prefer an attempt to reduce the tax burden on the poorest section of society (by passing that burden on to the richest section if necessary). And no, I don't think that this sort of redistribution is illiberal. The tax system is government intervention and we can't realistically abolish it. It is, in my view, a flawed system in that it places a disproportionate burden on the poorest in society. That needs to be addressed. And I do understand the low tax/high growth argument. This isn't about the overall level of tax though, it's about how a given level of tax is collected.

** On that subject, an interview with the Scums political editor is available here (via). In it, you can hear Trevor's witty justification for use of the phrase "another one bites the pillow" on the front page of a national newsaper. Very amusing.

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The Straight Choice

For crying out loud.

I couldn't care less what Hughes does with his penis to be honest. The "straight choice" campaign against Peter Tatchell means he's fair game though, I'm afraid. No-one likes an out and out hypocrite.

And his claim today that "I wasn’t just doing it for me but for many others who are in the same boat"? Poor, very poor.

(My choice of link in the post about Guido now looks particularly ill advised. Doh! He's still not going back on my blogroll though. It's the gay = peado thing.)

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Fear

Sir Ian Blair says BE AFRAID! Thanks for that Sir Ian.

Let's go back to basics. Terrorist activities are designed to generate a climate of terror in their target population. A key part of that strategy is the randomness of their activities. Terrorist groups do not have the military capability needed to inflict massive casualties on the scale needed to genuinely threaten the national security of the country under attack. Instead, they use random attacks in an attempt to destabilise that country. The idea is to cause a disproportionate level of anxiety, fear, and panic within the target group. In essence, a terrorist operation succeeds if it generates fear which is out of proportion to the size of the threat the terrorists actually pose.

There's a very easy way to limit the effectiveness of that strategy. Be honest, stay calm, and explain it.
Today, as you will know, there are small numbers of fanatics who wish to attack and kill the citizens of this great country. These terrorists seek to frighten us but they are not a threat to the security of our nation.

We are doing everything in our power to stop these fanatics. The nature of terrorism is such that we can never guarantee that they will not succeed in launching an attack at some point. Our brave nation has faced many threats. We stood alone against the might of Hitler's airforce in 1940 and we refused to yield. Our nation did not buckle under the full force of the Nazi onslaught and we will not buckle under the feeble force of this band of extremists. If these fanatics believe they can scare us, the British people, they are sorely mistaken. We will not be frightened. We will not allow them to change the rules of our society. We will never surrender.
Something like that would do it.

If, on the other hand, you want exploit the terrorist threat for your own purposes, you might say something like this:
I think I am more pessimistic in the sense that the threat is here, it is palpable.
There are people who engage as we speak in thinking about and preparing for atrocities in London and elsewhere.
We thought we were busy before July - we are at least 75% more busy.
Play up the threat, in other words. Use words like "atrocity" to emphasise that that you could be the next one killed in a bloody random act of terrorism even though it is highly, no extraordinarily improbable that you will be. Play down the fact that you're still far, far more likely to be killed in a traffic accident or, to use a facetious example, when coming into contact with the police than you are to be killed by a terrorist. And remember always to emphasis that the size of the threat is increasing, always increasing.

Adopting that strategy, for whatever reason, does in effect turn you into a terrorist propagandist of course. You end up helping to spread the disproportionate fear that the terrorists are trying to generate. Does this fact ever enter Sir Ian's tiny brain? What about his boss? Does it ever occur to him? Or are both Blair brains basically big bare bollocks?

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I'm with Tim, doctorvee, Clive, and Jarndyce to name but a few. It's partly the misplaced self-congratulatory glee, partly the apparent ignorance of something called bisexuality, partly an apparent obssesion with homosexual innuendo, but it's mostly the unselfconcious repetition of the facile gay equals child molestor meme.

Not that he'll care I'm sure, but Guido has been removed from my blogroll.


Astonishing Revelations

At PMQs today, David Cameron inadvertently revealed his true colours for the first time; he's a closet old school leftie. On Tony Blair:
This is someone who came into politics to soak the rich and ban the bomb but ever since then he has been sucking up to the rich and dropping bombs.
Well I never. Whatever your politics, you have to admit that it's a pretty good line.

Blair's often accused of being a Tory in a red cape (indeed, Cameron does just that here). Could it be that the leftie's have got their revenge by infiltrating the upper echelons of the Conservative Party with a die hard "red under the bed"? A Conservative criticising someone for sucking up to the rich surely gives the game away. A real Tory would never criticise such a noble endeavour, after all.

Cameron's secret socialism must be exposed. Tony Blair must urgently direct MI5 to investigate this matter. Perhaps they could also arrange for him to take a one way trip to North Korea, somewhere I'm sure he'd feel right at home.

The just in case disclaimer: this is satire (or at least an attempt at it).

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After praising Google last week, it's all gone horribly Pete Tong today.

See Blairwatch for more.
Google and Evil
So, Google has decided to kneel before the butchers of Tiananmen Square and censor itself in order to get market share "play a more useful role in China".
I fear that Google's ever so discrete and occassionally quite useful "sponsored links" will get no more clickage from this internet user.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006


It's Tuesday's Token of Altruistic Subjective Thoughtfulness. Nice Blair is ahead of me again despite not feeling well (get well soon everyone). Splendid job.

So, I've got dry rot. Well, not me obviously, my flat. My neighbour('s flat) has it too. Towards the end of last year we had someone in to give us quotations to get it sorted. "Ouch" is probably the operative word. It's not going to be cheap. Neither of us really has the readies ready to get the work done. But it's already pretty serious and the longer we leave it, the worse it's going to get and the more it's going to cost. Not good.

I've basically been a bit worried about this since we got the quotations and have, for the most part, tried to pretend it'll just go away somehow. In the meantime, my neighbour has been a bit more constructive. He's found out that it's possible to do much of the work ourselves. He's arranged for a new appointment to get a new quotation, phoned me up to ask if I'd like to do the same, and taken the time to explain exactly what it would involve (the bit with the sledgehammers sounds fun). So, we've now had our new quotations and they are about half the price of the original ones. Result.

I'm not much of a one for DIY to be honest but it looks like I will be soon. Taking down walls and the like probably won't be too much of a problem but the putting things back together bit will be, er, interesting. The best part is, when I was explaining this to my neighbour, he offered to give me a hand with sorting everything out. Truly a gentleman and a scholar.

What kind gesture have you seen recently?


Success Defined

Reuters Alert Net (via):
Insurgents in Iraq mounted more than 34,000 attacks last year on U.S. and other foreign troops, Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians, a nearly 30 percent jump from 2004, the U.S. military said on Monday.


The number of insurgent attacks involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or roadside bombs, increased to 10,593 in 2005 from 5,607 in 2004, the military said. This figure includes IEDs found and eliminated by U.S. forces before rebels had a chance to detonate them.

Insurgent attacks using suicide vests rose to 67 in 2005 from 7 in 2004, the military said. Suicide attacks with car bombs rose to 411 in 2005 from 133 in 2004.
Feel free to read the US military's tortuous explanation as to why this means the coalition is succeeding. I can't make head nor tail of it. Perhaps I just don't have the intelligence to grasp what they're saying.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, does anyone honestly still think that the evil liberal media are desperate to exploit any opportunity to criticise President Bush and his Iraq adventure? There are a total of five reports on this in the entire google news index as I write this. Just to give a sense of pespective, there are over 800 indexed for that whale.

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A Free Press

So what's wrong with the Guardian? To their credit, they are one of the few newspapers to even mention that Blair was asked about rendition yesterday. But "Blair insists nothing to hide on rendition"? It's true that Blair did indeed do that. But he also made a startling admission (as mentioned yesterday)
Question: You have not made enquiries as to whether people have been illegally transported through this country from Place A to B?

Prime Minister: No.
The Guardian don't seem to feel that this was worth pointing out to their readers.

Despite all the controversy, Blair has not thought to phone President Bush, his closest ally, and just ask him whether this has taken place. It would be the simplest of tasks. He has not asked anyone to contact CIA HQ in Langley to ask them if they can provide him with an assurance that it hasn't happened so that he can put this controversy to rest once and for all. Why not?

This is surely the most significant admission concerning rendition to come out of yesterday's press conference. And yet the Guardian, who undoubtedly had a journalist present, chose to emphasise Blair's disingenuous insistence that he has "nothing to hide". Way to go, people. Let's hear it for the Fourth Estate.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Blair Does Listen!

Hidden Camera Footage

What makes me laugh about these stories is the way the government types act incredulously. "Us? Spying? Why the very idea is laughable. Are you some sort of conspiracy nut?" Just saw Dennis McShane do this on Newsnight. So the British government doesn't spy on people? Don't be silly.

I've got no idea whether these allegations are true but I can say with some certainty that the British government do spy on the Russians and the Russians know they do and and vice versa. It's part of "the great game" and really no big deal. Happens all the time.

The Moscow Times says that these allegations have been made on the record by "Sergei Ignatchenko, the chief spokesman for the Federal Security Service, or FSB". To be honest, the Russian government's mock outrage is totally unconvincing. Putin, was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB after all. You can't help but wonder if he's feeling nostalgic for those good old Cold War days.

Putin is a worrying fellow. It looks like this affair is designed to exert pressure on various human rights NGO's inside Russia more than anything else. It's probably also a warning to the British and other Western governments that the Kremlin has no intention of allowing foreign governments to promote too much "civil society" (democratic society presumably) in the Motherland, above board or otherwise. Worrying.

We're still quite a long way from the days when Mutually Assured Destruction was the only thing stopping World War Three though. Who remembers those public information films? "If the Soviets launch a full scale nuclear attack against Britain, and you don't have access to a suitable bomb shelter, hide under your mattress." I presume that was just to give you something to do in the four minutes before you died. Very considerate.

I really do remember having "what would you do in the four minutes" conversations at school, in fact. Ah, these young people today. They just don't know what it was like to live in a world which was always four minutes from total oblivion. You just don't get honest to goodness fear like that these days.

And did you know, when I was young, I used to live in a hole in the road... Sorry, this post has waffled off at a tangent.

Anyway. Putin. Worrying fellow.

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Visit the UK: No Questions Asked

Tony Blair's monthly press conference transcript is up. What words of wisdom can we find? This appears to be an exchange between one reporter and the PM (minus discussion about the Iraqi election results which may turn up in another post).
Question: Prime Minister, you said a moment ago you didn't know anything about the allegations made in Moscow this morning. I think probably for some of us, that is surprising. It was reported 4 or 5 hours ago, you are coming to a public press conference.

Prime Minister: No, I didn't see it until I saw it on teletext, I am not saying I haven't asked about it.
It is interesting to hear that the prime Minister gets these important news stories straight from, er, teletext. Here was me thinking that the Foreign Office would be desperate to inform the prime minister that the Russians were accusing the UK of spying on them. Let's not bother, they must have thought, the PM will probably see it on teletext. It's an efficient system, I'll grant you. Very little waste.
Question: They are keeping secrets from you. It is your choice, but I mention it only because on a number of occasions we have been in a similar situation here in London, which has caused controversy since your last press conference, was the matter of rendition, where you said in both the Commons and at press conferences that you didn't know much about it. People have since alleged well you must have done, and obviously you know more about it now. So I wondered if you could give us an up-date on this issue which has aroused so much heat but not much light?

Prime Minister
: Right, on rendition, I may be able to offer you neither heat nor light. All I have said about it is that I know America has this practice. We don't. I think Jack has disclosed any of the cases that have ever been put to us, but as far as I am aware the Americans do not operate this, except in circumstances where the law of the country concerned, and the consent of the government concerned are compatible with what they are doing. But I don't know any more about it than that.
You might want to note the "as far as I'm aware the Americans...". It's important for the next question.
Question: You have not made enquiries as to whether people have been illegally transported through this country from Place A to B?

Prime Minister: No.
There you have it; plausible deniability laid bare. He goes on to again refer to Jack's half-arsed "investigations" but the key truth is in that one word: No. Despite the mounting evidence of questionable CIA activities on British soil, the prime minister has not made enquiries as to whether the US government has illegally transported people through this country.

I wonder if you could just pretend that there's another rant about Blair's mendacity here. I feel a little queasy now and may have to go and lie down for a bit.

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Murdoch's just this guy

The evil one speaks. Rupert Murdoch, the Australian, US based media baron, possesses what is arguably the most important political opinion in the United Kingdom. If, in the fullness of time, he and his newspapers decide to back Cameron, it'll almost certainly have some affect on the general election result. As such, anyone who's anyone at Westminster will have listened to and analysed every nuance of every word of this interview.

That's sort of odd when you think about it.

At the moment it looks like he's going to continue to back New Labour. He threw a few criticisms in there and a few hints that Cameron might be an acceptable future prime minister. He's very committed to Blair's education reforms and wants the Tories to support Blair even if the "Labour Party is so stupid" as to oppose the proposals.

Do you know that some managers subscribe to the view that it never hurts to remind people that they're expendable every once in a while? This can, they argue, focus their attention and increase their desire to perfom to an acceptable level. But I digress.

On Cameron, Murdoch said this:
If you believe everything he says, there's not going to be an alternative between him and a New Labour government.
(06:30 mins)
I can't help wondering if Tim noticed that one.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006


Here are some interesting remarks made by President Reagan in 1987 after a meeting with a delegation of resistance leaders from Afghanistan.
I expressed our nation's continued strong support for the resistance and our satisfaction with the large step the Afghan resistance took toward unity in choosing a chairman for the first time.

And as the resistance continues the fight, we and other responsible governments will stand by it. The support that the United States has been providing the resistance will be strengthened, rather than diminished, so that it can continue to fight effectively for freedom.

On behalf of the American people, I salute Chairman Khalis, his delegation, and the people of Afghanistan themselves. You are a nation of heroes. God bless you.
That's Chairman Yunis Khalis of the Islamic Union of Mujahidin.

The New York Times mentioned Khalis in an article describing how US special forces tried to orchestrate the capture bin Laden at Tora Bora in late 2001.
A theologian and warrior of considerable repute, Khalis knew the Americans well: he had fought for them two decades before... he had accepted Washington's largess, and over the years, as the war against the Soviet occupiers progressed, Khalis, among the seven resistance leaders, would receive the third-largest share of the more than $3 billion of weapons and funds that the C.I.A. invested in the jihad. As the godfather of Jalalabad, the capital of the province of Nangarhar, Khalis controlled a vast territory, including Tora Bora. It had been a key operational center for his fighters during the anti-Soviet war. And it was a key operational center for Osama bin Laden now. The caves were so close that Khalis could see them from the verandah of his sprawling stucco home.
Remarkable. Perhaps this "hero" could provide some assistance to the US effort.
It was... during the war years that bin Laden first met Khalis; the two men became very close friends. Indeed, when bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in May 1996 from his base in the Sudan (after the United States insisted that the Sudanese government expel him), it was Khalis, along with two of his key commanders - Hajji Abdul Qadir and Engineer Mahmoud - who first invited him. And it was also Khalis who, later that year, would introduce bin Laden to the one-eyed leader of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar, who had fought with Khalis - and would later become his protégé - during the jihad.
Ah well, maybe not.
Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A.'s bin Laden unit... told me recently... "Osama lost his father when he was young, and Khalis became a substitute father figure to him. As far as Khalis was concerned, he considered Osama the perfect Islamic youth".
OK, definitely not. Not even worth asking, to be honest.
In late October or early November, according to Scheuer, American operatives went to see Khalis to seek his support. "Khalis said that he was retired and doing nothing now," Scheuer told me. "It was the last time" American intelligence officials saw him. "It was so bizarre! Didn't anybody know about Khalis's friendship with bin Laden? Or that Khalis was the only one of the seven mujahedeen leaders who remained neutral about, and sometimes even supported, the Taliban?" He shook his head and then went on: "And even after Sept. 11, indeed in spite of it, as soon as our bombing of Afghanistan began, Khalis issued a well-publicized call for jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan."
Er, right, er... er, right. The US special forces asked bin Laden's substitute father if he fancied helping to capture Osama and topple the Taliban. This was the man who had invited bin Laden back to Afghanistan in 1996 and introduced him to the Taliban leadership. This was a man who had called for jihad against US forces. And he said no? Amazing...

So, Yunis Khalis; terrorist or freedom fighter?

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Look! Over there...

So, anything interesting going on this weekend apart from the extremely embarrassing revelations about Oaten's private life and the death of that whale?

Why yes, I do believe there's another thrilling enstallment of lies, damned lies, and New Labour.

Act 1

Independent on Sunday:
Pressure over the use of British airports for secret CIA torture flights increased dramatically yesterday after it emerged that a Foreign Office minister misled Parliament over a meeting between the UN and UK civil servants about the issue.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Lord Triesman, the Foreign Office minister, misled peers when he told the House of Lords that no such meeting had ever occurred.

But Martin Scheinin, the UN Human Rights Commission's special rapporteur, travelled to London to hold meetings with Home Office and Foreign Office officials between 21 and 22 November last year. He raised concerns about the issue of "extraordinary rendition" - the policy of moving terror suspects to countries that use torture - and is so concerned following the lack of disclosure that he is writing to ministers.
Act 2
The Observer:
Ruth Kelly has suppressed a crucial report warning her plans for schools could drive a wedge between rich and poor children, The Observer can reveal.

The academic research warns that giving schools control over which pupils they admit could increase social segregation. This is precisely the claim made by Labour MPs in revolt over the reforms and until now denied by Kelly.

Its authors have been told by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to postpone publication of their study, which will not now be released to the Commons Education Select Committee which is set to report on the Kelly's education white paper this week.
Act 3
Chicken Yoghurt (on the police storing the DNA of innocent children):
It looks very much to me as if the government and the police (as Sir Ian Blair reminded us, an apolitical organisation) have colluded on an agreed line to take on this matter. What other explanation? Mental telepathy? Did Hyde copy Burnham's homework?
Tony Blair is first against the wall when the revolution comes.
Does he, I wonder, understand that he's radicalising people with his obsession with control and the stifling of dissent? Does he understand the frustration felt by people living under a government displaying such contemptable levels of duplicity? Does he realise that he shows a complete lack of respect for rational debate and the democratic process? Does he see that behaving as he does undermines the very institutions he puports to hold dear?

I don't know. Perhaps he's been in his Westminster bubble for so long that he genuinely can't see it. Perhaps he believes that the ends justify the means. Perhaps he can't see that this is how authoritarianism takes root and freedom is lost. Or perhaps he really is a idiot.

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Joining the Dots

A follow up to yesterday's post about the outing of Mark Oaten by the News Of The World. Having thought about this, I've decided to go a little further than a vague deniable insinuation.

Here are the dots.

Mark Oaten's indiscretion was revealed by the News Of The World (via), the Sunday edition of the Sun (the Murdoch owned Sun is, of course, famous for it's rather unhealthy relationship with the prime minister.) At the risk of sounding like a patronising arse, I suspect it's fair to say that most NOTW readers will read the story and go "Mark who?". Oaten's scalp is hardly high profile (do your own baldy joke). This has led some to question what the point of this outing is. It seems unlikely that it'll generate much in the way of a boost in sales.

Oaten was the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman. He, along with David Davis for the Conservatives, refused to give in to the government/Sun bullyboy tactics over the 90 days without charge proposal.

You might remember that before it was put to the vote he said "the home secretary should act now to amend this illiberal and dangerous piece of legislation". Or you might not remember. Oaten's role in Blair's blackest day might have already been forgotten by most people in the country. That he was once high on the Sun's list of traitors may also be forgotten.

I tell you what though. I bet I can name at least two other people in this country who do remember. Can you guess? OK, here's a clue. Their initials are TB and RW.

Now to me, joining these dots seems to reveal a picture of something very nasty indeed. As a self confessed cynic, and Lib Dem voter, it's hard to say whether I'm being objective about this. Was this a hatchet job driven by a desire for revenge? Or should I order the bacofoil baseball cap?

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Uncompromising Investigative Journalism

Now that is a surprise.

As a Liberal Democrat voter, and as someone who detests the "journalism" of Murdoch's minions, I'm not sure if I can be objective about this. The question is, does it matter who Oaten chooses to associate with in his free time? Does it affect his ability to be an effective politician? Why does anyone care who the man sleeps with?

I honestly think this is gutter journalism of the worst kind. Do the public really need to know? I think we would be better served if journalists spent more time investigating the politics of politicians. I think the public would be better served if journalists did not turn idle pub chatter into melodramatic headlines just when the government was getting a bit of stick in the media. I think the public would be better served if journalists did not misuse the word traitor in an attempt to stifle dissent, smear political opponents, curry favour with the government, and promote their owner's agenda.


But maybe that's just me.

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Cover Up or Not?

Blairwatch has an excellent summary of the current status of the al Jazeera memo. It appears that either the Cabinet Office or the Prime Minster's Official Spokesman is being economic with the actuality.

They have issued contradictory statements about the existence of "any memos or notes that record President Bush's discussions with the Prime Minister about the bombing of the al-Jazeera television station in Qatar". The Cabinet office said it "holds information which is relevant". The PMOS says the memo "doesn't refer to bombing the al-Jazeera television station in Qatar."

Even in that strange world of half truths, meaningless denials and deliberate misdirections which politicians inhabit, it's hard to see how both statements can be true. It seems to me that the PMOS's denial removes the possibility that Blair can milk this for political purposes.* He's on record. He is offically not a restraining influence on President Bush.

If the memo is released and that denial was untrue, well, it's always the cover-up that gets you in the end.

* Subject to a caveat I left in a comment to the Blairwatch post.

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Creeping Compulsion

We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.
- Labour Party manifesto 2005
It's a cliche but sometimes you wonder whether New Labour have already complied their own Newspeak dictionary.
Voluntary (adj.)
Done or undertaken of one's own the government's free will
Anyone who needs to travel oversees as part of their paid employment would certainly have difficult with the suggestion that applying for a passport is a voluntary decision.

But the real worry in the manifesto commitment is the use of the word "initially". The government's strategy has been clear for quite some time. The first step was to sell this as a voluntary scheme even though it's clear to anyone with two brains cells to rub together that a voluntary ID card scheme cannot possibly even begin to deliver any of the alleged benefits which have been attached to it.

It was obvious from the start that this was a first step on the road to compulsion. It was obvious that the government were deliberately downplaying the idea of compulsion in order to establish the idea of a national identity register while intentionally not explaining that you would have to be forced to register, law abiding citizen or not, if the scheme was to have any useful purpose. It was obvious that this was yet another example of the Blair government displaying a total lack of respect for the intelligence of the people of this country.

Worryingly, it appears that the government now believe that they have "moved the debate on" to the extent that they can openly start to discuss forcing people to register.
The question is should you require - and I think ultimately, unless there is compulsion, you won't get the benefits of an ID card system - is it right to compel those that don't have a passport also to get an ID card? I think it is, I think it will become inevitable that you need reliable means of identification, both to stop people stealing your identity, and also making it much, much easier for you to deal with the state. You won't every time you want to change something have to fill in a long form, life will just become much easier.

I think the government takes the view that to get the full benefits they will ultimately have to become compulsory."
- Lord Falconer, 20/01/06
This will need a vote in parliament. Falconer is the first to start the softening up exercise.

The government will, of course, wait until the register is already up and running and costing money before they actually put this to the vote - "Look, what I'm saying is, we have this system in place, and it is simply common sense to make the best possible use of it in order to protect the citizens of this country".

I'm on this list.* Are you?

* Strictly speaking, I'm not. I'm one of the 11,000+ people on the earlier pledge.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Google Power

Google is resisting attempts by the US Justice Department to access information about searches and website indexing. The information has apparently been requested in order to collect infomation about the effectiveness of US online pornography laws. The information would not provide direct information on individuals using Google services.

Privacy groups say any sample could reveal the identities of Google users indirectly. And they say the demand is a worrying precedent, because the government also wants to make more use of internet data for fighting crime and terrorism.
It's that thorny issue of the balance between protection from potential terrorists and protection from unwarranted and potentially dangerous uses and abuses of state power. As Blair says "the question is: where does the balance fall, and that is a matter of judgment." Given his current occupation, and given the fact that he genuinely appears to believe that his government can do no wrong, that the very idea is an absurdity, you've got to wonder whether he's in the best position to make that judgement.

Anyway, Can you imagine if the US Justice Department got their hands on the data about my google searches?
Terror, terrorist, terrorism, bin Laden, al Qaida, President Bush, Tony Blair, Whitehouse, Downing Street, Zarqawi, Iraq, Insurgents, Home Office, Pentagon, suicide bombing, London Bombing, Iran, Israel, nuclear weapons, Hamas...
To name but a few recent examples.

If the US had this information, would I be taken off a bus and disappeared for five months? I wouldn't be too happy with that, to be honest.

In reality, of course, it's very unlikely to happen to me; I've got an English sounding name and white skin. Anyone interested in these issues who does not have similar "protection" might want to reconsider the way's they use their search engines though. Microsoft and Yahoo are both cooperating with the US administration. For now, Google remains defiant. More power to them.

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Weasel Words

Jack's latest mendacious missive has been released to parliament.
We have found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or overseas territory since 11 September 2001.
But Jack, we know that the government is trying to "move the debate on from the specifics of rendition". As such, a reasonable person must conclude that you're probably not looking very hard to find evidence of it happening. What we want is an absolute assurance that it has never happened. Can you give us one? It's a simple question.

I'll wait till I get hold of the full statement before offering any further opinions.

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Those Results in Full...

The Iraqi elections results have now been declared.
  • United Iraqi Alliance: 128 seats
  • Kurdistan Alliance: 53
  • Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni): 44
  • Iraqi National List (secular-based): 25
  • Iraqi Front for National Dialogue (Sunni): 11
  • Other parties: 14
These are important numbers. It appears that they will represent the political situation in Iraq for the next four years.

The parliament has 275 seats. For an overal majority of one, a party would need to get 138 seats. Under the new constitution, this simple majority is all that's required to pass bills into law on most issues. The UIA, the Shiite Islamic theocratic fundamentalist alliance, is 10 seats short of achieving that simple majority. That they did not win the 138 seats they required is a small glimmer of light in a very dark situation. In practise, as the most powerful party, they are unlikely to struggle to get the extra 10 votes they need when required.

The constitution requires a two thirds majority in support of some legislation, including ammendments to the constitution (although in some cases this reverts back to a simple majority if a stalemate results from the two thirds stipulation). The number required to carry through new laws in this case is 184 (or 92 to block them). The UIA and the Kurdish Alliance together have 181 votes. Not quite enough. On the other hand, the parties who protested the election results and those who seek to ammend the constitution have not reached the 92 seat they need to be block legislation either.

Much depends on the 14 seats won by the other parties. ABC News has reported that 5 of those seats were won the the Kurdish Islamic Group. (The ABC report studiously avoids mentioning that it is now extremely likely that over 2000 US soldiers have died so that Islamic fundamentalists can dominate Iraq - curse those evil liberals.) Will the UIA be able to garner the 10 seats it needs for a simple majority from these others? Will the Kurdish Alliance again form an alliance with the UIA as part of a deal over continuing movement towards full Kurdish autonomy? If they do, will they find the extra three votes they need to achieve the two thirds majority?

If I was a betting man, I know where I'd put my money. Sadly.

* Who said that the UIA would get "around 130 seats" almost exactly one month ago? To be fair, it was already fairly obvious to most people. Not, apparently, to Marcus though.

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It's no secret that the Bush and Reagan administration's have employed many of the same people.

For example, Donald Rumsfeld was famously employed as President Reagan's special envoy to Iraq in 1983. It was, of course, in this role that he shook hands with Saddam Hussein. This happened at a time when the US State Department (pdf) had "information confirming Iraqi use of chemical weapons (CW)". Rumsfeld, however, did not bring up the subject of weapons of mass destruction during his 90 minute discussion with Saddam. Perhaps that is why, according to official documents (pdf), the brutal dictator showed "obvious pleasure" during the meeting

He did raise the issue in a meeting with Tariq Aziz. In his own words (pdf), "I made clear that our efforts to assist [in the Iran-Iraq war] were inhibited by certain things, citing the use of chemical weapons, possible escalation in the Gulf, and Human Rights". This appears to be the only reference Rumseld made to CW or Saddam's brutal internal oppression methods during his two and a half hour meeting with Aziz.

In later years, of course, Rumsfeld was to show a great deal more concern over Saddam's WMD capabilities and his oppression of the Iraqi people. Back then, he opined that Saddam's continuing use of CW and his Human Rights abuses were inhibiting the US government's ability to provide assistance to the vicious dictator's oppressive regime. In those days, Rumfeld was mostly concerned with US foreign policy goals. He was specifically concerned with maintaining and expanding US influence in the Middle East and ensuring that the oil flowing out of Iraq was not disrupted. This can be clearly seen in Rumsfeld's own record of his conversation with Aziz (3rd pdf linked above).
Iraq was a country I wished to visit. It was clear from a geostrategic standpoint. We had interests that were similar and that it was worth talking about the similarities and differences in our views... We were ready if they [Saddam's government] felt that a higher profile in the relationship would be useful in indicating to the world that relations between our countries are important and that there are more similarities than differences.

I noted that Iraq's oil exports were important. We talked about the best ways to increase their output. Would be [sic] the possibility of their having a pipeline connected to Saudi Arabia. He said that even without pumping stations Iraq could increase from 500,000 bpd [probably, it's slightly smudged] to 1.2 million bpd; with pumping stations output could go up to an even higher number. I raised the question of a pipeline through Jordan. He was familiar with the proposal. It apparently was a US company proposal.

So it's actually sort of moving when you realise that Rumsfeld has become a compassionate humanitarian in the years since these meeting occurred. Why, it almost brings a tear to my eye.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

You may not be aware of it but hamsters are at one with the force.
This isn't the hamster you are looking for. This is some other hamster.
Sorry. How could I not link though?

Everying you ever wanted to know about the market price of large quantities of Scandium Oxide.


More on the rendition memo

Surprise and fear...

The official word from the PMOS:
Put to him that if the UK was a member of the Council of Europe then any rendition taking place on its soil would be illegal, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that Jack Straw had dealt with the issue of rendition in his statement on the 12 December. It had been a comprehensive statement and the PMOS suggested that journalists read it carefully. Anything we did in relation to rendition was in compliance with our obligations under international law. As Jack Straw had said, we had had no requests for rendition since 9/11.
*Reads statement again*


*Looks up definition of disingenuous*


*Looks up definition of ambiguous*


*Looks up definition of git*

*Laughs at photo of Straw in dictionary*

More from the PMOS:
He said it was a classic case of people getting over-excited by a leaked memo rather than actually reading the content of it.
The leaked memo is available via the article in the New Statesman (previous experience shows that you only get one free access to this per day). I would also recomend reading it in full.

Here's one point of interest.
Is extraordinary rendition legal?
9 In the most common use of the term (ie involving real risk of torture), it could never be legal, because this is clearly prohibited under the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT). But the CAT prohibition on transfer applies to torture only, not to CID*. (This may explain the emphasis on torture in Rice's statement).
* [cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment]
Here we have an official confirming that they suspect the US administration might be moving people around in order to subject them to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The official clearly outlines the way in which emphasis and careful phrasing might have been used by Rice to avoid denying that this occurs. The memo was written partly "with a view to PMQ's on 7 December" so I think it's reasonable to assume that Blair was aware of it's contents.

Strange then, that on 22nd December, he said:
[A]ll I know is that we should keep within the law at all times, and the notion that I, or the Americans, or anybody else approve or condone torture, or ill treatment, or degrading treatment, that is completely and totally out of order in any set of circumstances."
Aha. Gotcha.

Except that it's at times like this that you fully appreciate just how mendacious Blair's words are. We should keep within the law?

*Looks up definition of axiomatic*

Did he actually rule out the possibility that extraordinary renditions have led to ill or degrading treatment of detainees? He said that "the notion" that it has happened is "totally out of order". Well, yes, it is. Does that tell us anything about whether it has actually happened though?

So many questions. Having read the memo's advice on "handling" this, the government's statements can be very clearly seen to be deliberately misleading. As such, it seems that a fully independent investigation is absolutely essential.

Pressure is mounting.


Observations over at Obsolete and PDF link to the full memo.

Channel 4 News tonight reported that Jack Straw is going to make a written statement to the House of Commons tomorrow. A written statement? One that can be carefully scripted in order to "avoid getting drawn on detail"? So that no questions on those details can be directed at the Strawman? Good grief, I've woken up inside a Yes Minister halloween special.

Let me issue a written statement of my own:
Jack Straw, the foreign secretary of the United Kindom, is a devious, morally vacuous coward.
Unlike Straw, I am prepared to answer public questions on my written statement. Feel free.

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